Chapter One: Growing Up & Getting Married At 18
“My mother was from South Africa and came to England when she was 17. She met my very English father at 20 – he was an architectural model maker. We lived in Basildon until I was about ten which, back then, was one of the ‘new towns’ in the southeast of England. Then, my father bought an old vicarage with the plan to do it up over the next few years; looking back, that’s probably when my love of interiors first started. I went to a convent school but left at 16 to be a model – I wanted to be just like Twiggy. I loved it and it was around this time when I met my first husband Peter. He was in the rag trade and like no one I’d ever met, and I was completely in love with him. I was only 17 but we got married in Las Vegas when I was 18 and I had my first child, Jamie, when I was 19.
“My parents were quite upset about the marriage as they felt I was too young. They were probably right. I left Peter when I was 20, which was quite brave considering I walked out with a baby under my arm. I wanted to start modelling again, which is what I did during the week while my mother looked after Jamie; then I’d be with him at the weekends. Around this time, I went to a party in London and met Ronnie.”
Chapter Two: Meeting Ronnie & Touring With The Rolling Stones
“I joined Ronnie and the rest of the band on tour. Back then, I managed a lot of what he wore and what he ate. Before a show I used to throw pairs of Fiorucci jeans at him and say, ‘Wear these!’ or ‘Wear this Victorian nightdress I’ve turned into a shirt – with a good waistcoat.’ He was my doll and I loved dressing him up in all sorts of vintage clothes. My mother was a doll collector, which probably had something to do with it… Anyway, it was a mad time and you had to be quite tough to survive. It was a good job I could keep up with boys – stay up as late, drink as much, do the same amount of coke. It sounds so stupid now, but I had so much fun and it was all one big adventure.
“Ronnie and I were together for seven years before we got married. I was much more into the idea of being ‘the girlfriend’ – it was far more rock‘n’roll. But Keith [Richards] eventually changed our minds. He’d just married Patti [Hansen] and told us we should do the same. It was the mid-80s and Ronnie and I had two children together – Leah and Tyrone. We’d gone to stay with Keith and Patti in Jamaica and, that evening, Ronnie said he wanted to go out for dinner – which was quite unusual, but it was our anniversary of sorts. At the table, he put his head down and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ I said, ‘Alright, then.’ I’d thought about the kids and felt it was probably right that their parents were married.”
Chapter Three: Falling Ill With A Mysterious Condition
“I’m not sure how my marriage lasted so long. Ronnie was a big drinker, whereas I wanted to have a much more normal life. I’d also fallen ill towards the end of 1989, which had a big influence on how I wanted to live. After experiencing horrible pain in my stomach, I was taken to hospital where doctors diagnosed me with Crohn’s disease. I’d never heard of it before but assumed I had an incurable illness. They put me on steroids, which made me feel awful. My skin went really weird and it felt like my soul just evaporated out my body.
“I then did an interview with the Daily Express, which ran a headline saying something like, ‘Stones Wife Diagnosed With Incurable Disease’. The next day, the paper rang me up to say they’d received lots of letters and planned to send them through. Among them was a letter from a herbalist called Gerald Green who said he’d cured his emphysema naturally. He told me to visit him if I wanted to put my Crohn’s into remission, and I got straight into my car and drove down to Hastings. He was the first person to tell me anything about genetically modified food – bear in mind it was only 1991 – and the difference between that and organic produce. On the spot, so much fell into place for me, and I vowed to do things differently. It was hard but, after four months of changing my ways, I felt much better. Then, I went to stay with a friend when I fell quite violently ill again. They rushed me to hospital for exploratory surgery, which is when they discovered I had a perforated appendix. It turned out I never had Crohn’s at all.”
Chapter Four: Changing My Lifestyle
“It was like a lightbulb had gone off in my head. If I hadn’t detoxed my body, I might never have found out I didn’t have Crohn’s and things would just have got worse over time. So, I stopped buying processed foods and changed everything. Everyone hated it at first, including Ronnie, who just carried on the same way. I tried to cook him organic meals, but he just pushed a few peas around. Keith turned to me one day and said, ‘The problem with you, darling, is you’re addicted to organic food.’ That was coming from him, an addict himself! Well, it didn’t throw me off – as far I as I was concerned, I’d undergone a real awakening.
“The children didn’t like it either but, in hindsight I think they’re quite grateful they were put on a healthy path quite early on – especially now that health and wellness is all the rage. Most of them are so health conscious, and even Jamie’s better than he used to be. You’d never see them eating in a McDonald’s. If they did, I’d be so furious!”
Chapter Five: Spying A Gap In The Market
“It wasn’t long before I started looking at other things in my life – like what I was putting on my skin or using to clean my house. It’s what led me to think about launching my own organic beauty and wellness products. There was an enormous gap in the market back then, but the beauty journalists I tried to talk to about it just laughed at me. One of them told me it would never catch on, though she did call me recently to apologise. Of course, green or ‘clean’ beauty is huge now, which means it’s quite a crowded market. The difference is my business is very small and I run everything myself, which gives it that personal touch.
“I also run Mrs Paisley’s Lashings, a pop-up restaurant which I dreamt up with my daughter and son-in-law. I was living in this huge house and thought it would be a good idea to open it up to the public as a restaurant serving sustainable produce. I asked my friend Arthur Potts-Dawson to be the chef and we use as much possible from my garden. Meanwhile, I bought all the crockery and cutlery second-hand, so everything was as eco-friendly as possible. Over the course of two-weeks, we hosted 25 diners to start with, with the numbers doubling by the end of the fortnight. I’m sure lots of them came round to have a good nose around, but they were paying and getting educated on organic food and wine, so I didn’t mind. We’ve done other pop-ups at places like Jimmy’s Farm since then, and I’d love to do more now the world is returning to normal, so watch this space.”
Chapter Six: Writing My Memoir, Going On Strictly Come Dancing & Divorcing Ronnie
“Around 2009, I ended up going through another quite drastic personal transformation. After Ronnie and I split, I left the bubble I’d been in since I was 22 years old. I’d never paid my own bills – we had people who did everything for us – or booked my own travel tickets. Suddenly, all that support was gone. I sat there and thought, ‘I don’t know how to look after myself.’ Lots of women find themselves in a similar position after the end of a marriage – be it because of divorce or death – and they have to pick themselves up. One morning, I was reading the Sunday supplements in bed and there was an agony-aunt style interview with a woman who said her marriage had broken up five years ago. She still wasn’t over her ex. My thinking was crystal clear: ‘That’s not going to be me.’
“From there, I decided to re-join the modelling agency Storm at the age of 53. It wasn’t hugely difficult to step back into the industry – my marriage break-up had been all over the press and Strictly had approached me about being on the new series, so it felt a bit like my moment had arrived. The first week of the show was totally nerve-wracking. I remember crying and saying, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it. But my partner Brendan [Cole] was wonderful. I’d never danced with a stranger that intimately before, but he put me totally at ease. Before that, my life had been all about rock‘n’roll… but here I was doing ballroom. It was great.”
Chapter Seven: Launching A Podcast & Searching For Aliens
“When I was younger, I remember my father read an article in the paper entitled ‘Was God An Astronaut?’ – it was so alternative to my Catholic upbringing. Then, about 20 years ago, I was on holiday with Ronnie and the kids in Brazil. We were staying near the beach, but really off the beaten path. The night before we left for São Paulo, Ronnie started shouting, telling me to come and look at some strange lights hovering over the ocean. When I came outside, I could see there was this… thing… that had lights shining onto the water’s surface. It was hovering and I turned to Ronnie and said, ‘What the hell is that?’ Ronnie ran back inside to get his glasses and as he did, this ‘thing’ lifted up, went to the right, stopped, then zoomed off to the left at such a speed. I just knew I’d seen a UFO.
“I’ve told this story over the years and I’m often met with the same response: ‘What had you had to drink, Jo?’ But then my friend Mike Hansen, who worked in BBC radio, told me he was leaving to start a podcast. He said if I came up with a decent concept, we could do one about the extra-terrestrial. I wanted to speak to everyone about this subject – it’s quite easy to track down the famous ones like Shaun Ryder or Robbie Williams, but lots of experts have also written to me to get involved. I once went to a party and met this guy who said he and his five friends were convinced they were abducted. He’s been on the show. We also asked Betty Hill’s niece to come on – her aunt was married to Barney Hill, both of whom claimed they were abducted by aliens in a rural part of New Hampshire in 1961. It was the first widely publicised report of an alien abduction in the US. We had a great chat – you should definitely listen to that episode.”
Chapter Eight: Becoming A Grandmother & Getting Involved With Charity Work
“I have ten grandchildren. Being a grandmother is wonderful and so different to being a mother; the connection is completely unique. Maggie, my 12-year-old granddaughter, is really into TikTok and sends me videos of older women dancing to show me how I could set up my own account. I never tell any off them off – eight of them are boys, and then there are two girls. One of the boys, who’s now 16, loves boxing, and I think he might have a crack at a proper career. I take full credit – I love boxing, which is also part of my exercise regime alongside Pilates and weight training.
“Today, I live off grid and I’d love for more people to be able to do that – it’s going to be a big part of my charity and climate work going forward. My son Tyrone is one of the founders of Project Zero, an organisation which works to save the oceans. We need to conserve at least 30% of the world’s oceans to ensure humanity’s survival, so it’s a really worthwhile cause. Rainforest protection charity Cool Earth is another organisation I’m involved with after Leah was appointed an ambassador, and I’m also a bee ambassador. I’ve also been a judge for the People’s Environment Awards for nearly ten years. It’s so rewarding seeing these issues finally hitting the mainstream and seeing more people inventing new ways to try to save the world. It’s so positive to see what they’re doing – there’s too much bad news out there, and not nearly enough coverage about the good stuff. If anything, we have to have more hope.”
Visit JoWoodOrganics.com and follow @JoWoodOfficial on Instagram.